Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Message preached on Sunday, January 11, 2009
English language has the idiom "How goes the enemy?" It means, "What time is it?" The idiom was popularized by Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby (chapter 19). But it was coined by Frederick Reynolds in the play The Dramatist (1789).

To answer the question for ourselves, the year is 10 days old. But it isn't so old that we still can't do some preparations for the rest of the year. It is well for us to pay attention to the wisdom of Proverbs

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.
Learn from their ways and become wise!
Though they have no prince
or governor or ruler to make them work,
they labor hard all summer,
gathering food for the winter.
But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?
When will you wake up?
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit;
scarcity will attack you like an armed robber (Pr 6:6-11, New Living Translation)

Verse 10 sounds so much like some people on Sunday mornings who beg for a little more sleep time, doesn't it? Have you ever noticed that kids will wake up without any trouble on a holiday, but on a schoolday it is so hard for them to get out of bed? Well, they are that way, because we are that way. We know how to get out of bed early (no matter what) for the things we care about. But on Sundays, we feel we need the sleep because we have worked so hard all weeklong.

The Apostle James' letter gives us some pointers on how to plan the year with prayer. But first pay attention to what he has to say to those who make plans without God:
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. (4:13-16, NLT)

What was 2008 like? There were moments and acts of stupidity, times of suffering, occasions of satisfaction and periods of sickness.

First, pray against stupidity

Some of our troubles are caused by our own foolishness. We need to ask for wisdom:
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. (1:5-8, NLT)

Now wisdom is not something you get by getting one more university degree. It is not being street smart or worldly wise. Wisdom does not lie in thinking that we can fix things by juggling, scheming, manipulating...James defines wisdom:
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness (3:13-18, NLT)

In summary, what James is saying is that wisdom does not consist of being a smart alec or a conniving rogue. The essence of wisdom lies in goodness and humility.

Second, pray about suffering
The next time James asked his readers to pray was in 5: 13. Eugene Peterson's paraphrase The Message says, "Are you hurting? Pray."

Suffering or trouble is inevitable because we live in a broken world. Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed, the coordination of the world was broken. Now when something is broken, we think, "Let's fix it." Face one thing: you can't fix a broken world. You can fix a broken toy or gadget. But you can't fix a whole world.

When we face our trouble and refuse to pray there can be only one of three reasons: first, we haven't understood the situation or faced the reality of our trouble, that the source of our trouble is not small, but the brokenness of our world.
Second,we have pride in our own ability to fix things. We're too proud to pray. We're too proud to ask for help--though it is help from God that we need.
Third, some don't pray about their troubles because they know that they themselves have brought it on themselves through their sin and feel quite unrepentant about it. They don't feel sorry about what they've done and can't pray asking God to forgive them and save them from their trouble. James advised such people: "If you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (5:15-16, NLT)

Third, pray when satisfied

James said, "Are you feeling good? Sing"

The songs we sing are just prayers set to music. We pray about needs and problems. But when we have got answers from God, do we go back to Him in prayer. And I'm not talking about private, silent prayer. How about public acknowledgement that God has answered and blessed? We are quick to ask people to pray. Are we as quick to announce being answered?

Ten people suffering from leprosy were healed by the Lord Jesus. Nine rejoiced in being healed and went on with their lives, but didn't think of returning to the Lord and thanking Him. Only one out of ten was truly thankful. Only one decided that he couldn't just go on with his life. His life changed. His attitude changed. He turned his whole life around to return to the Lord.

Living gratefully is more than just saying you are grateful. The writer of Hebrews says:
So through Jesus let us always offer to God our sacrifice of praise, coming from lips that speak his name. Do not forget to do good to others, and share with them, because such sacrifices please God. (13: 15-16, New Century Version)

If you say you are grateful, then you must show it. Blessings cannot be stopped up. When you stop them and let them stagnate, they stink with staleness and lose their power to bless, just like spring water if it is not allowed to flow freely will become undrinkable. Share the blessing. Pass it on. Give as it was given to you.

Fourth, pray away sickness
During the year some of you will fall ill. Some of the illnesses will be passing. Some will be hard and stubborn. James told his readers,
Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord (5:14, New Revised Standard Version)

You may be wondering about why James prescribed a ritual service. The reason was that as time went on and the Church grew in maturity, the number of miracles were growing less. If you recall, when the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, the manna stopped. Though the Promised Land was to flow with milk and honey, the newcomers discovered they had to work hard make the land produce its milk and honey (see Josh. 5:12 - The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan, NIV).

As the Church matured God didn't always answer them with miracles. Paul, though a person with a gift of healing, on a number of occasions had to leave people unhealed (Phil.2: 26-27; 2 Tim. 4:20). Instead of praying for healing, he gave Timothy medical advice for his stomach ailments (1 Tim. 5:23).

I'm not saying God doesn't do any miracles today. He does. But somehow spectacular miracles are reserved for the simple and illiterate, the primitive and the backward, because they need visual demonstrations of what God says, whereas we have the written Word and know the value of the word put into black and white. Time and again, i have heard of simple people getting miraculous answers while the sophisticated do not.

Today, with all the scientific and medical advances made, God is giving us miracles mediated through them. But even then it is the work of God. Without the building blocks of life supplied by God none of the scientific advances would be possible. Every root, oil or mineral used to compound medications, every surgical instrument has been made from raw materials created by God. The brains behind each discovery and advance are also the creation of God. To top it all, without God commanding healing none of the medical products or techniques can be effective. Haven't you noticed that after doing everything they can, doctors say they cannot guarantee the end, that we have to wait and see. The same things are done to two patients. One lives, the other dies. What is the difference? In one case, the sick body or mind heard the divine command to heal. The other didn't.

So here is James telling the church, even when there is no one with the gift of healing in a community of believers, a sick person can ask for a special service of healing. Elders of the church can anoint sick people with oil, symbolising the power of the Holy Spirit of God, and when the elders pray for healing miracles do happen.

Quite early in my ministry in Lucknow a college student was diagnosed with cancer affecting his testes. His family asked me to find out from the doctor what the future held for him. The doctor told me to tell the family that they should make no plans ever for his marriage. I communicated that to the family, but I told them about James' instructions. I gave the young man some books to read and told him that if he believed what God's Word said I would ask a group of believers to come together to anoint him with oil and pray for his healing. After a week the young man told me he was ready. We prayed as James directed. I told the young man that this did not mean that he should discontinue any prescribed treatment. R--- finished college, fell in love, got married and is the father of two teenagers today.

So during 2009, when you come down with an illness that is harsh and stubborn, ask for your church elders to come and anoint you and pray for healing. Of course, we can't be calling elders for every headache or stomachache. This is for those illnesses which make you housebound for long or bedridden.

2009 can still be planned for. It is not too late to pray against your stupidity taking over your life, to pray about all your sufferings, to pray thankfully when satisfied and to face your illnesses knowing that the prayer can blow away your sickness. Have a happy year for the rest of the year.

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